Mother Teresa (1910-97) was certainly one of the most widely recognized Christians of the 20th century. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 after a powerful personal encounter with Jesus that inspired her to pour out the rest of her life in ministry to “the poorest of the poor.”
The Sisters now number 4,500 in 150 countries, ministering to the dying, homeless, sex trafficking victims, orphans, abandoned pregnant women, lepers, and others in 150 countries.
Her official “canonization” as St. Teresa of Calcutta in the Catholic Church on Sept. 4, and an invitation to speak about her at an upcoming conference for Movimento Per la Vita (MpV), Heartbeat International's affiliate friends in Italy this October, caused me to examine her work more closely.
I am truly amazed at how much Mother Teresa's work and teaching parallels our own in the life-saving pregnancy help movement. Perhaps that should not be surprising, since both her work and ours are authentic works of Christian charity and love. Both works are inspired by the Lord and only possible through His grace.
While I have written about Mother Teresa's courageous public stand for the dignity of preborn life elsewhere, at The Federalist and New Boston Post, it's crucial for the present and future of our movement to remember just what this woman's life can teach us about the selfless work of pregnancy help. Here are 5 lessons we can learn from Mother Teresa:
1. Be holy.
Mother Teresa believed that all of our power comes from the Lord and we are helpless without Him. We must spend a great deal of time every day in prayer before the Lord. She and her Sisters spent hours in their chapel daily, often prostrate before the Cross and before the Eucharist, and they prayed constantly as they worked with the poor and dying. She often said that she was like a pencil in God’s hand—totally useless without Him.
How much time do you and your team spend in prayer—prayers of praise, repentance, supplication, thanksgiving?
2. Abortion is the greatest destroyer of peace and love in the world.
Mother Teresa said this repeatedly, and whenever she had the “world stage” as in Oslo when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and in front of then-President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, in 1994 at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. She said that abortion teaches people to use violence to get what they want. It not only kills the unborn baby, it damages the mother, father, family, and society.
It's imperative we keep the devastating, wide-sweeping effects of abortion front-and-center in our minds as we go about our daily work. Each client, each woman who comes to us for help, each family in need of our life-saving services, is in danger of destroying peace and love in their own worlds, as well as the world around them.
How often does this conviction drive us to our knees as we seek to achieve our mission of saving lives?
3. Self-sacrificing love is the “solution” to abortion (and to all the problems of the poorest of the poor).
Mother Teresa rightly identified the unborn as the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak. She taught we all must, "love until it hurts." We must teach mothers and fathers to learn to love their babies. This self-giving love for each other and for children must begin within the family. From there it spreads into our groups and communities, and finally into the world.
In your own family, is there someone who is among the poorest of the poor, someone who does not feel loved? Are you being called to reach out in love to that person? Are the programs of your organization delivered with unselfish love, teaching and modeling love for your clients, or are they powered first by protocol, policies, and procedures? Does 1 Corinthians 13 take precedence over, and inform all areas of, your day-to-day "best" and "better" practices?
Does love define our work as it should?
4. Ek. Ek. Ek.
"One, One, One," in Hindi, Mother Teresa used this saying to demonstrate the power of ministering to individuals rather than relying on systems and programs to deliver the care only a person can. This is the model for pregnancy help centers, medical clinics, maternity homes and nonprofit adoption agencies. The problems of the poor, whether financial, moral or spiritual, are daunting in their complexity, unless, as Mother Teresa taught, we reduce them to the simple steps of love.
We keep our eyes not at "problems" per se, but at the discreet individuals. Person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood and community by community.
Tweet This: We keep our eyes not on "problems" but on individuals. @HeartbeatIntl #prolife #MotherTeresa
Do I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems facing our clients or our community, our nation, or our world? Of course. But at the same time, we've seen great transformation take place in the lives of a woman, her children and her family because of a series of single steps we have helped a woman take.
Celebrate these successes to encourage each other: Ek. Ek. Ek.
5. The irreplaceable core of the work of a “personal transaction.”
As we share Jesus’ love and his suffering with a person in need, we gain a front-row seat to watch the work only God can do by His Spirit. Mother Teresa defended her work as essentially centering on relationship and love. There were some who accused Mother Teresa of failing, for example, to develop and utilize more sophisticated medical equipment, more “professional” medical, counseling, or social service training for those in ministry.
As our organizations grow and develop and we attempt to gain credibility in the community while growing in our effectiveness, are we committed to keeping “personal transaction” as the irreplaceable core of our work?
Over the years, Heartbeat International's affiliated friends at MpV in Italy had the blessing of welcoming Mother Teresa on numerous occasions. She encouraged them repeatedly to continue their life-affirming work despite setbacks in the law and in the courts, reminding them that the unborn were truly “the poorest of the poor” and in desperate need of their love.
I thank the Lord for Mother Teresa's faithfulness, courage and obedience. I thank Him for the legacy Mother Teresa left us of wisdom and her example of selfless giving “till it hurts.”
She is a model of Christ’s love, a fitting model for those of us striving to hold every life precious.
Peggy Hartshorn, PhD, is chairman of the board for Heartbeat International, the world’s largest network of pro-life pregnancy help. She has been involved on the front-lines of serving women in unexpected pregnancies since Roe v. Wade made abortion on-demand legal in the United States in 1973.